INCREASED FACULTY DIVERSITY BENEFITS STUDENTS
When Noelle Norton became dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in 2013, one of her first priorities was increasing the diversity of the college’s faculty. At the hands of Professor Perla Myers, Assistant Dean Pauline Powell and Professor Alberto López Pulido, special assistant to the dean at the time, the college launched the Diversity Postdoctoral Faculty Program in 2014 to establish a pipeline to help achieve that goal.
“Academic excellence is at the heart of USD’s mission, and you can’t have academic excellence without a diverse faculty,” Powell says. “Different perspectives help students develop a more comprehensive understanding of subject matter that really can’t be replicated any other way.”
Since the program was created, 15 post-doctoral faculty have participated. Though some have moved on to other institutions, some have remained as faculty.
Each year, post-doc faculty positions are opened to applicants who have completed requirements for a doctorate or other terminal degrees. The precise balance of teaching and research depends largely on the department.
“All focus on research and want to gain experience in the classroom,” says Associate Dean Kristin Moran, current co-chair of the program. “The program creates opportunities for people in a variety of disciplines to understand what it means to teach at a liberal arts university, and at the undergraduate level.”
It was USD’s reputation as a teaching institution that piqued the interest of Angela Nurse.
“I was open to tenure-track positions as well as post-doc fellowships when the USD opportunity came to my attention,” says Nurse, who earned her doctorate in sociology at Michigan State. “I saw the clear commitment to teaching and faculty-student interaction. I really want to make a difference in the classroom, and USD has been the perfect place to develop the talents and skills needed to do that.
“The environment was so encouraging. The department chair visited my class and gave me some tips on improving pedagogy. It was so wonderful to have someone that invested in you and in making you better.”
In addition to providing teaching and research opportunities, the diversity postdoctoral program also helps students challenge some preconceived notions.
“For example, a black faculty member in chemistry is something most students likely have not seen,” Powell says. “To shatter stereotypes while at the same time providing the highest-level classroom instruction is a very valuable part of a USD education.”
Nurse, who has accepted an offer for a tenure-track position at USD in 2019, says she was initially “shocked” at the response of many of her students.
“I’ve had students come to my office hours just to thank me for being here,” says the sociology professor who students affectionately refer to as “Doctor Nurse.”
“I’ve had some tell me they’ve never had a professor that looked like me — or like them. It’s been humbling.”
Norton considers the program a “catalyst of institutional change” with far-reaching implications.
“We receive about a hundred applications for the program,” Powell adds. “Scholars from across the nation are seeking us out. That competition means we’re bringing some very innovative and brilliant minds and diverse voices into our classrooms, and our students benefit directly. We’re focused on the College of Arts and Sciences, but we hope to take the program to the institutional level; a sustainable, funded model to benefit students all across campus.” — Timothy McKernan